By the time this column is published, players in this year’s second major will have completed their first round. This is the 115th staging of what is normally golf’s toughest major – an event where a score of even-par, or close to it, usually wins.
This event is the one major run by the US Golf Association, and is obviously its flagship tournament. In determining their host venues, the USGA issue guidelines to courses wishing to be considered for hosting rights. Those guidelines include the intention that the 72-hole winning score should be around par. Whilst course length has become increasingly important, it is far from the only consideration. Hosting venues will be told how narrow their fairways need be, how high and thick the two grades of rough, how difficult the pin placements and so on.
Chambers Bay – host of this year’s US Open.
This can be challenging for green-keepers to get right, but on the whole it seems to work. This is the reason that many golf pundits claim the US Open is the toughest major to win. Whether the world’s toughest major is the US Open, or the Open Championship at Carnoustie on a howling day, is neither here nor there. What cannot be disputed is that the winning scores in six of the last ten US Opens have been even-par or higher. No other major, particularly in the last decade, comes close in terms of average winning scores close to par. Hearing the world’s best golfers state, “I played well today – I managed even-par,” puts the winning of this event into a different context than other tournaments.
There is a limit to how hard a course should be, something USGA Chief Executive Mike Davis is well aware of. Social media has been awash with many pros airing negative views. The usually outspoken Ian Poulter wrote: “Well, several players have played Chambers Bay in prep for the US Open and the reports back are that it’s a complete farce.”
Others, including 6-time runner-up, Phil Mickelson, declared his liking for the links-like layout, whilst Tiger Woods was a bit more judicious: “Do I like it? Depends how it’s set up. Mike could make it just brutal.”
And that is the point – how will it be set up?
No one wants the course to be labelled unplayable, but the USGA does not do birdie-feasts either. The pros know they are going to be in for a severe test; that is the nature of US Opens, but this one could be something else again.
In a recent interview, Tony Jacklin, the Englishman who won it 45 years ago, expressed amazement at the natural beauty of Chambers Bay. “It’s extreme. I mean in its views, its landscape, its challenge. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in America, if anywhere. People say it’s more like a British links and, although it is artificial and feels man-made, it’s true that Robert Trent Jones (the architect) has tried to create a links in Seattle with the fine fescue grasses. But we don’t see elevations on our links course like at Chambers and we don’t see the dramatic undulations on some of the greens, either. It’s unique. You just won’t see something like this at any other major.”
The USGA is well known for trying to mess with player’s minds by setting up courses described as “on the edge.” In Chambers Bay they need to be careful not to go too far.
Chosen as this year’s host venue in 2008, just months after it was first opened, the USGA is continuing its tradition of doing all it can to ensure its champion is a worthy winner. USGA CEO Mike Davis is very hands-on with local course management, including the head greenkeeper, both in the lead-up and during the running of each event. In spite of going to places others wouldn’t, Davis appears to have got all the big decisions right. His selection of the very short (6950 yards) but history rich Merion CC, as host in 2013, was labelled by some as ridiculous. Justin Rose won a fabulous event in 3-over par, just two ahead of runners-up Jason Day and Phil Mickelson.
Picking winners in golf is always difficult, especially since Tiger’s demise. Notwithstanding, I will give what I think are ten selections that represent good value for money – odds courtesy of Paddy Power as at Sunday 14 June.
- Rory McIlroy: Which Rory will turn up? At his best probably unbeatable – 11/2
- Jordan Speith: Consistency in driving and putting should see him contend – 8/1
- Justin Rose: Good VFM these odds. If form is there he will be hard to beat – 18/1
- Phil Mickelson: The sentimental favourite with 6 runner-ups. A big ask – 20/1
- Adam Scott: Got his driving and caddie back. Putting not so sure – 22/1
- Sergio Garcia: Course demands shot making with irons, which he has – 28/1
- Hideki Matsuyama: In form. Has mental discipline to win a US Open – 35/1
- Jim Furyk: Mentally tough and always in contention. Good odds – 40/1
- Patrick Reed: A strong self-believer with an aggressive attitude and game –40/1
- Kevin Na: Has gone close to winning many times this year. Great odds – 100/1
At these odds, where would I put my money? On Rose, Furyk and Na.
Enjoy the show.